Steampunk adventure. Paranormal romance. Alternative history. We don’t bat an eye at these genres now, but at one point not too long ago they didn’t even exist. Some enterprising author had to be the first person to come up with story ideas that fell outside the boundaries of the established genres at the time. And even though they were essentially creating a new genre from scratch, it probably wasn’t their goal from the start.
The idea of genre mashing isn’t new. In fact, movies, anime, and comics have been doing it for years. In the realm of publishing we call this combining of established genres novel mashups, and much to the ire of some, it’s here to stay. But what is a novel mashup, you might be asking yourself as you dart nervous looks to your peers to make sure you aren’t missing something terribly important. A novel mashup is simply a story where two or more types of literary genres are combined together. Like a fairy tale set in a dystopian future (Cinder) or a classic with a twist like Pride, Prejudice and Zombies. However, novel mashups should not be confused with parody novels such as Bored of the Rings, The Hunger Pains, or Nightlight.
So now that you understand what mashups are, let’s take a look at a few different types of novel mashups that you could explore.
Classics with a Twist
The popularity of this type of mashup hit the publishing scene in 2009 with the release of Seth Grahame-Smith’s wildly successful novel Pride, Prejudice and Zombies. This success went on to spawn a plethora of clever and sometimes cheeky takes on classic lit. This type of novel mashup is mainly comprised of classic or public domain works that have been cleverly altered to tell a new story. And whereas some see it as a brilliant way to draw new readers to older works, others steadfastly claim it’s a travesty to the literary word. Whatever your opinion on the subject, the altered classic is here to stay and might be something to try your hand at.
Same Story, New Setting
The novel mashup isn’t confined to the “classics.” Really any pre-existing story can become a new novel mashup with a simple setting change. Television shows and movies like Sherlock or Beastly, as well as books like Cinder or Mystic City are breathing new life into old stories by changing the setting of the original story. Even Disney isn’t a stranger to this concept. In fact they set their animated film Treasure Planet—a version of Robert Louis Stevenson's, Treasure Island—in a quasi-steampunk future. However, the most interesting thing about this type of novel mashup is that even if you chose the same work of fiction and use the same setting treatment you won't get the exact same story as someone else. 10 Things I hate about You and Kiss Me Kate are both modern adaptations of Taming of Shrew, but they both offer a unique and interesting take on the original Shakespearean play.
Genre Binding Alchemy
Not all novel mashups have to start out with a pre-existing story as its base, in fact this category of mashup is comprised of pairing two genres together. This is arguably the most widely used type of novel mashups, which might lead you to believe that everything cool has already been done and beaten to a pulp. But just remember that at one time, hugely popular shows like X-Files and Supernatural were considered new and unusual genre mashups. And though very similar (they are both essentially detective stories) they combined different secondary genres (detective and SciFi for X-Files and detective and paranormal/supernatural for Supernatural) to make something fresh and exciting. That is to say that just because someone else has written an alien western doesn’t mean you can't offer a new and different take on the mashup.
New Genre Mixer Party
Sometimes when you prepare to release your book you realize that all of the current fiction genres really aren’t a great fit for your story. That’s what happened with my Marked Ones Trilogy. The trilogy has action, romance, a race of horned non-human characters, super tech, ninja assassins, genetic engineering, new adult drama, and a dash of complex social issues tossed into the mix. All of these are, for the most part, SciFi topics. But there’s just one problem, the story isn’t dystopian and it’s not set in an alternative reality or the far flung future, it’s set in the current. Which means the SciFi sub genres of dystopian, cyberpunk, and alt history are pretty much out. So you can see the headache I was facing when selecting a genre for the series. My solution? To just make up a new genre—urban SciFi. Because essentially the only real difference between my story and urban fantasy is that mine was SciFi, and not Fantasy. What I’m trying to say here is that you shouldn’t be afraid to make up a whole new genre for your books if the current established genres and sub genres aren’t the right fit.
To Infinity and Beyond!
The most important thing to remember is that genres are merely a tool to help writers tell a good story. Genre should be the shiny box you place your story in to help lovers of said genre find it, not the glue that is holding the story together. Furthermore, you should never feel like everything worth doing has already been done. Just because the bare bones of your story is similar to something already out there, that doesn’t make your story a knockoff. Inception and Ocean's 11 are both essentially heist stories, but no one in their right mind would ever claim they were the same story. So go out there and share your bit of awesome with the world. Who knows, you might just create the next big thing.